Monday, April 30, 2012

The Marketing Gap of 21st Century Education

There is a major gap in the way independent schools are marketing themselves. Here it is. The promise of a 21st century (21C) education is more meaningful to educators than it is to parents.

At the core of this issue are differing views on what it will take for today’s children to be prepared for their future as adults and what that future will look like. Educators and educational literature clearly point to an era in which skills will trump knowledge and in which there will be a set of professional/vocational roles never seen before.

But I believe that parents still want their kids to know the three R’s and view educational success in terms of their children becoming doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers. In their eyes, the best schools have the best results in standardized testing and send more of their students to the best colleges.

While independent schools proudly promote their adherence to 21C principles, parents are looking for other markers of success. This discordance may or may not be keeping parents from enrolling children, but it will certainly lead to disappointed customers in the future.

I’ve been reading (and would encourage everyone involved in education to read) Seth Godin’s treatise on education called Stop Stealing Dreams. He provides some relevant views and analysis. For example, he says:
“Parents don’t ask their kids, “what did you figure out today?” They don’t wonder about which frustrating problem is no longer frustrating. No, parents have been sold on the notion that a two-digit number on a progress report is the goal—if it begins with a “9.”
A little cynical perhaps but successful marketing requires you understand the motivation of buyers even if you don’t agree with them. To deny the ways in which parents measure success, will lead to unmet expectations.

Godin tells a powerful story about the way sales of LEGO were saved. It seems that in response to sagging sales, LEGO moved from selling packages of assorted blocks to pre-defined kits – ones that provided the necessary blocks and instructions to build a particular thing - a robot or a spaceship or a tractor. It worked. Sales increased because “they match[ed] what parents expect[ed] and what kids have been trained to do. There’s a right answer! The mom and the kid can both take pride in the kit, assembled. It’s done. Instructions were followed and results were attained.”

The 21C educational maxims of creativity, collaboration and communication are too often falling on deaf ears. In addition, parents aren’t convinced of the need for 21C super-skills like bravery, responsibility, judgment and willpower. The purchaser is buying something other than what the vendor is selling. That can only lead to problems.

Here’s what I think independent schools should be doing about this:

Acknowledge reality. Parents are likely not interested in the tenets of 21C education. Children are still being taught to think in a very 20th century manner by both parents and society. Godin sums it up by saying, “We’re entering a revolution of ideas while producing a generation that wants instructions instead.” It’s important that schools and their marketers are honest about the views of target segments. We can’t be deluded by our own marketing material.

Conduct Research. Find out what your parents consider to be the markers of educational success. Determine the attitudes of your parents toward the principles of 21C education. Perhaps ask parents about their vision of success for their children as expressed in more emotional terms – happiness, preparedness, having more opportunity than parents did. All of that will be invaluable marketing from recruitment and retention points of view.

Find common ground. Parents ultimately want heir kids to have the tools for success. Or as Godin poignantly says, “Parents were raised to have a dream for their kids—we want our kids to be happy, adjusted, successful. We want them to live meaningful lives, to contribute and to find stability as they avoid pain.”

Perhaps schools need to a better job of acknowledging that primal parental motivation and with that as a basis, explain that the definitions of “adjustment,” “success” and “meaningfulness” have shifted.

Avoid jargon. Explain better. Schools have an obligation to train parents while educating their children. The term “21st Century Education” is one dimensional and not well understood. Schools should provide literature, workshops and lectures for parents explaining the concepts and the need for the techniques. Provide parents with practical examples of how all of this is being implemented and the ways in which their children are benefiting.

Empathy is a critical ingredient to successful marketing. It’s important that we put ourselves in the shoes of parents and view the world that way. Godin says, “What matters is that finding a path that might be better is just too risky for someone who has only one chance to raise his kids properly.” Smart independent school marketers will listen carefully and guide themselves accordingly.

And what do you think? Are independent schools doing a good job of marketing the promise of a 21C education? What can or should be done? Please comment with your ideas so we can create an important conversation.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What brand is your thank you?

In a fit of fundraising heresy I posted this question on Linked In last week:
Does saying thank you really make a difference? Do you know of a research study that proves that thanking donors will lead to further or increased donations?
There was some method to my madness. I had just read the findings of a study conducted for AFP Canada by Ipsos Reid, entitled, “What Canadian Donors Want.” One of the conclusions reported was:
"Less than half agreed with the statement that not receiving a thank-­you message would decrease their likelihood of giving in the future (14% strongly agree, 31% somewhat). Fifty-­two percent disagreed with the statement (30% somewhat disagree, 22% strongly disagree)."
Stripping away the confusing double negatives, it tells us that 52% said that not receiving a thank you would not decrease the likelihood of giving in the future.  That seemed to fly in the face of fundraising fundamentals.

Being a proponent of data based decision-making, I decided to see if in fact there was research that could confirm the efficacy of thanking donors.

So, I contacted some industry experts and I posted my question. I received a number of interesting responses although none of them could point to studies that directly confirm that thanking donors will lead to improved results.

I was directed to research conducted by Penelope Burk that indicates donors say they will give again if they receive:

1. prompt, meaningful acknowledgment of their gifts
2. reassurance that their gifts will be directed as donors intend
3. meaningful results on their gifts at work, before they are asked for another contribution

But that speaks to intent and not actual results and in addition, the "prompt, meaningful response" was only one of three requirements.

There is interesting research at Donor Voice that shows that a significant number of donors feel that a gift should be acknowledged within two weeks. But that speaks to timeliness. Interestingly, 54% of donors said it didn’t matter how long a charity should take to say thank you. It occurs to me that’s pretty close to saying it doesn’t matter whether they say thank you at all.

Some seemed to feel that the answer to my question was immaterial. For example:
"Why would it matter? You are going to thank them because it's the right thing to do, anyway, so what difference does it make?"
Others responded more rhetorically and one of those responses unwittingly addressed what I believe is the core of the issue. Here’s what he said:
"Is there really a reason to consider not thanking a donor? If we found out it doesn't make a difference, how do we change our behavior?"
Well, maybe the AFP study has told us that it isn’t making a difference and that yes, we need to change our behaviour. I believe the research may indicate that donors have become cynical about “canned” thank you letters and emails. Perhaps they are saying that no thank you is better than a clearly automated thank you.

In commenting on the research that he presents at Donor Voice, Kevin Schulman says, “there are in fact a lot of donors who don’t care about the acknowledgment." He also speculates that there may be a segment of donors who are “annoyed by the constant stream of thank you’s” And then he addresses what I believe is the crux of the issue. He says, “… I’d further guess this is about … the way the acknowledgement is done.”

In the same way that organizations have to break away from the clutter to compete for donated dollars, they have to make sure that their acknowledgments also stand out. Thanking a donor just because it’s the right thing to do may be a wasted opportunity. If branding helps get the gift in the first place than the thank you ought to reflect that branding. The thank you is part of the brand experience and organizations should give a lot of thought to expressing gratitude in a way that is brand-consistent. This may include considerations like:
  • the voice in which the thank you is written
  • the design of the thank you
  • content that accompanies the thank you
  • the medium that is used for thank you
  • who says thank you
I’d bet that organizations that give serious thought to the experience of being thanked see a great lift in gift frequency and amounts.

The last thing that organizations want is donors who say "no thanks" to being thanked.

I’d love to hear what others have to say on this and in particular would like to see some great examples of well branded thank you’s.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

David and Goliath meets Social Media

Here’s an interesting David and Goliath story about the power of social media to transcend the rule of law. It’s also a cautionary tale for any business or organization about the power of social media.

The “Goliath” in this story is Lassonde Industries Inc. of Quebce that sells a line of fruit juices under the name Oasis. Lassonde is a major corporate concern reporting about $750 million in sales on its website. Our “David” is a small local producer of soap products that had the misfortune of choosing the name Olivia’s Oasis.

So, in 1995 the battle begins when Lassonde sues the smaller Oasis for trademark infringement – presumably because they are worried that consumers might somehow confuse the locally available soap products with their national brand of juice products. In 2010, a Quebec court rules that Lassonde’s trademark claim is without grounds and orders Lassonde to pay the little Oasis $100,000 in costs and $25,000 in damages. But Lassonde can’t live with that. They appeal and low and behold the Quebec Court of Appeal rules in their favour, reversing the previous decision. Battle done. Winner declared, right?

Wrong. Within hours of the decision being made public, a popular Quebec TV host tweets his 100,000 followers and I bet you can almost guess what happens next. Yup, the (Goliath) Oasis page is besieged with thousands of negative comments including calls for a boycott.

To give the company a little credit, they react quickly and dispatch a senior executive to meet with the owner of the little Oasis and offer to pay all her costs. You can get the full details from the story in the National Post.

So here’s what I take from this tale of biblical proportions:

1. The rules have changed. In effect, social media rendered the decision of the court meaningless. It means that in the future, companies making similar decisions will have to consider not only issues of law but also how those issues will play out in the online world.

2. Organizations have to get smarter about the power of social media. Amazingly, Lassonde’s COO was shocked by the social media onslaught Lassonde but I’ll be that most people reading this could have predicted the outcome. This has cost Lassonde far more than what they will pay to the “David” Oasis and their own legal costs. Even after their attempt to make things right the comments today on the company’s Facebook page are overwhelmingly negative.

3. You can’t hide under the radar. Businesses or organizations have to assume that every decision will be subject to the scrutiny of social media and they have to be prepared to be judged in that court. That may mean taking a different course of action or proactively deciding how the story will be told. Recent controversy at World Vision and the Komen Foundation prove that even nonprofits are not exempt.

4. Social media will always side with the underdog. If you’re considering how a story will play out, you have to take that reality into consideration.

Social media is causing a major shift in the modern day battlefield between David and Goliath and smart companies are studying the revised biblical tale.

What’s your take? What are the implications of this story? What are you doing about your social media strategy? Any David and Goliath stories to share?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Both gift and sale are four letter words

If organizations treated a gift more like a sale, they’d find out the two words have more in common than four letters.

There was a great post from The Agitator last week discussing the fact that fundraising organizations often concentrate on donor acquisition to the exclusion of donor retention. This, despite the fact that data clearly demonstrates that it is more likely to get an additional donation from a first time donor than a new donation from someone who has never given.

It made me think about how this issue is dealt with in the for-profit world.  In business terms, a donation is essentially a sale. And for enlightened companies the sale is the beginning of a process, not the end of one.

There’s an old sales adage that goes something like, “Sometimes the scariest thing that can happen is making the sale.” It may sound counter-intuitive but the point is that sometimes making the sale is easier than delivering the product. The principle is easy to understand in service industries or in cases where something is being custom made. But I would argue that’s its potentially true when any sale  – or donation – is made.

That’s because there’s an implied contract in every sale. Even when a finished product is at the centre of the exchange, there is an experience to be delivered. It could be the taste, the feel, the time saved, the utility gained or even the jealousy of others. Successful businesses worry about whether that experience is delivered. They understand that their brand is at the core of that contract. They know that the possibilities for future sales lie in meeting the expectations of current customers.

What’s the implied contract in a charitable gift? Answering that question will allow organizations to see the ways that they can increase donations from current donors and in fact attract new ones. The more practical question is what’s the potential donor experience that can emanate from making a gift and what can organizations do to make sure it is delivered? Here are some thoughts (potential experience in italics and action items below):

A personal sense of satisfaction.
Thank you notes, calls, videos that reinforce that feeling. Congratulate your donors for what they have done.

The ability to tell others about what I’ve done.
Recognize donors publicly. Use social media or other means to make it easy for donors to share what they have done.

The knowledge that I am helping people, supporting a cause or making a difference.
Regular communication that informs donors about the difference their gifts – in specific or in general – are making. Personal communication with a donor. Testimonials from those who have been helped.

The opportunity to find out more about an organization or a cause.
Develop a relationship. Inform donors about opportunities for further involvement – those of time and money.

The opportunity to do it all again.
If it was a rewarding experience the first time, odds are a donor will do it again. Don’t be afraid to ask. Often.

There are lots of other (and probably better) ways of defining the donor experience and figuring out how to deliver it. But recognizing that the donation – just like the sale – is just the beginning of the relationship is the key to growing your donor base and the quantum of giving to your organization.

So, what do you think? Is a donation really a sale in disguise? What does your organization do deliver on the contract that is made when someone makes a gift?